Having served on the board of directors of Americans for the Arts during the 90s, I looked forward to seeing many friends and colleagues in Seattle. I was not disappointed. The arts community came to the glorious northwest in solid numbers to debate, share, learn and drink a little Seattle coffee. They came from all corners of the arts world – from private foundations to local and state arts agencies, from community activists to politically savvy advocacy leaders. There were artists and directors of theatres, dance companies, and consultants.
It seemed like my past and my future were all present at AFTA. In one surreal moment, I introduced Dr. Ivan Fuller, who replaced me as Chair of Performing and Visual Arts when I left Augustana College in November 2008 to Anne Focke, who I replaced as executive director of GIA upon her retirement in December 2008. And there were lots of young, smart arts administrators, grantmakers and artists attending. They made me smile in their enthusiasm and dedication. They made me ever hopeful.
Grantmakers in the Arts presented two well-attended sessions. The first session was on foundation giving for 2009 based on surveys by the Foundation Center. This information is published in our summer Reader. The session (and the publication) also included a very smart analysis of the foundation data with interviews done by Holly Sidford of Helicon Collaboratives. Holly’s work has impressed me with her ability to take information and put it into language that succinctly tells us what we need to know and what we need to do about it. The session also included GIA Deputy Director Tommer Peterson reviewing stats from the Foundation Center and the National Association of State Arts Agencies. Fidelma McGinn reported on a survey that Seattle’s Artist Trust had done of 700 individual artists. I was thrilled that we could include the results of this survey that addressed how artists are coping with fewer resources. You can download the summer Reader. Thanks to Sue Coliton of the Paul Allen Family Foundation for moderating this great session.
The second session relayed the results of research commissioned by GIA on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) by William Cleveland. Bill looked at the entry points into stimulus money apart from the NEA funds. Laura Zucker, LA County Arts Commission, Jill McGuire, Regional Arts Council of St. Louis and Erik Takeshita of LISC in Minneapolis all sited examples of how these funds can be applicable to arts groups. Not easy for those who haven’t been involved in government work in the past, but nevertheless, it’s there and the arts can access it. Bill’s research can also be found on the GIA website.
Congratulations to Americans for the Arts for a successful conference. It confirmed for me that even in these terrible financial times with granters and grantees nervous about the future, coming together always makes sense. As we finalize the details of our national conference in Brooklyn in October, I look forward in four months to doing this all again. The crowd won’t be so big but the people there will be right people to have the discussion we need to have as a community of arts funders. It is important and reconfirming to sit in a room, talk in the hall and brush shoulders with colleagues from around the country. As with AFTA, the feeling of the GIA conference will not be doom and gloom but will give us insights into how we take this lemon and make lemonade. It’s a great time for the arts in America. More money or less money, we are digging deep and coming up with new solutions together. Always, better together.